Tips for Organizing Your Freezer – Weeknight Dinner Stash

In this series of posts on organizing the freezer, I’ve written tips on labeling, containers, and thinking about your freezer as a pantry.  This post is about how to use the freezer to be smart about the time you spend in the kitchen and how to easily get one or two weeknight meals per week out of this one kitchen apparatus.

These posts began with a commitment to reduce the food waste in our home after Chloe (our daughter studying environmental science in college) came home from school with what seemed like a staggering statistic – between 30 to 40% of all retail and consumer food becomes waste.  That means 1/3rd of the food in our homes goes into our garbage stream.  That seemed astonishing to me.  As a business person, food costs are always high on my watch list, whether it’s in our business or in our home.  But then I thought about our freezer.  And how I wasn’t using it efficiently, and I decided to make some changes.  I started labeling everything.  I began using containers that would stack.  And once these two things were in place, I just naturally started to use our freezer more as a resource rather than like a stuffed closet that one dreads to organize or even dare approach.

Once the freezer was organized, it became easier to keep a better watch on my refrigerator and what needed to be frozen before it went bad.  In my family, it usually takes a couple of days before the leftovers are either gone or no one wants to eat them any longer.  That doesn’t mean they’ve expired, it just means we got tired of them.  When I see that happening, I know it’s time to move them into the freezer.  These leftovers have since become treasures.  Perfect for when I don’t feel like cooking, someone in the house is sick, or the day just got away from us but we don’t want to order pizza.  What was a tired leftover becomes a quick weeknight meal with a few minutes on the stove.

To reheat soups and stews, I run warm water on the outside of the container for 30 seconds or so until it releases.  Carefully, I turn it into a small saucepan or stock pot, add a little water, and cover with a lid.  Turn the heat to medium-low and let come to temperature over the next 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat down to low and add more water if needed while you prepare a salad or the rest of your meal.

To reheat pasta dishes or pot pies takes a little more planning.  Ideally, remove from the freezer in the morning and allow it to come to room temperature.  Then heat in a 350 degree oven until the center is hot.

In 2015 the USDA issued a Food Waste Challenge with these 3 objectives:

  1. Reduce – by all of the methods I’ve been writing about in these posts
  2. Recover – by finding secondary sources for surplus food such as food banks and pantries
  3. Recycle – by feeding animals the healthy surplus and the compost pile the spoiled food

BEFORE you toss those leftovers that no one is really interested in any longer, pop them in a container in the freezer.  These gems are weeknight emergency rations that make life super easy after a just a couple of weeks of this habit.

Annie
How do you save time and costs in your kitchen?

Tips for Organizing Your Freezer – Use Matching Containers

Last year in the interest of getting more organized in the kitchen and reducing the amount of our food that went to the chickens or into the compost pile, I started to focus on how to use our freezer better.  Having worked in the restaurant industry for years before running the galley on the Riggin for the past 20 plus years, I already had a good process around rotating refrigerator stock, shopping to a list, and using up leftovers.  But the freezer, on the other hand, was a place where perfectly good food went only to emerge some months (years?) later as unidentified mystery items destined for the compost pile.

organizing the freezer and the kitchen

Like most habits that end up sticking, it’s the simple things that matter.  Simple changes.  Simple processes.

Use Matching Containers
What I found was the simple process of labeling made a huge difference.  The next thing I discovered, and I know this might begin to sound like a Marie Kondo ad, but using containers that matched and could rest on top of each other really worked.

The ability to stack the smaller containers on top of each other is key.  Also, with the containers the same size, everything just fits nicely and just naturally organizes better.  I have a bottom freezer, so labeling the tops of the containers makes it so I can see all of the labels at a glance without moving things around much.   If you have a top freezer, then the labels should go on the side of the container for the same reason – you can see them at a glance.

As for the storage containers themselves, I bought a sleeve of pint and quart-sized freezer containers and another sleeve of interchangeable lids.   Normally, I am not a fan of buying plastic.  Period.  But after trying to use recycled yogurt containers with the lids popping off on a regular basis (yes, that would be the lids with the labels on them) I gave up and switched.  And I gotta say, it worked.

Here are a couple of tips that I found helpful:

  1. Use pint- and quart-sized freezer containers that match
  2. If freezing a pasta dish or pot pie, use an oven proof container so you can reheat in the oven
  3. Use interchangeable lids
  4. Label the top of the lids for a bottom or chest freezer and the side of the containers for a top freezer
  5. Store the containers, labels, and permanent marker together
  6. Use freezer bags for irregular shaped items or what won’t fit into a quart-sized container

Annie
Organized and loving it!  Stay tuned for more posts in this series.